Sai Baba of Shirdi – The hidden jewel of Advaita

Sai Baba of Shirdi – The hidden jewel of Advaita

Sai Baba of Shirdi is renowned as the Master of Miracles, but few have been exposed to his diamond teachings of Advaita (non-duality). Sai Baba’s philosophy was based on Advaita Vedanta, which also included elements of Bhakti. However, the phenomenon and magnitude of miracles that occurred during, and even after, his lifetime was so overwhelming that in their incessant narration over the decades since his death, his teachings have been largely overlooked, overshadowed and forgotten. With the deeper understanding prevalent today in humanity’s consciousness, that extends beyond the fascination and hope for miracles and moves in the direction of self-inquiry, digging out these precious gems of Advaita from the sacred soil of Shirdi is essential to understanding the deeper significance of this colossal spiritual figure’s raison d’etre. For, Sai himself said, “I give people what they want in the hope that they will begin to want what I want to give them.”


While we Indians, more prone to the Bhakti path, have built temples dedicated to Sai Baba in almost every street corner in Maharashtra, the Western spiritual seeker is practically non-conversant with this saint. Inclined to accept logical, knowledge-based concepts over the phenomena of miracles, the Western rational mind leans more toward Jnana and less toward Bhakti. Unfortunately, they have not been exposed to Sai’s teachings as there is hardly any awareness of literature that is primarily devoted to expounding his teachings. This is in sharp contrast to Sai Baba’s contemporaries, namely Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj, who had a steady stream of seekers from all over the world, visiting them because they had been exposed to their teachings that had spread far and wide through books published on their talks during satsangs. Perhaps the time has now come for the world to recognize and accept yet another gift of the highest teachings of Advaita Vedanta – as espoused by this Avatar.


Sai’s life (1838-1918) is a literal example of non-duality – there is no definite account of the date and place of his birth. He was supposed to have been born of Hindu parents and raised by Muslim foster parents. He is regarded by both Hindu as well as Muslim devotees as a saint, and in his life and teachings he embraced both the faiths. He lived in a mosque which he named Dwarkamai (the sacred city where Krishna lived), was buried in a temple, and taught using concepts drawn from both traditions. What could be more non-dual than that? Unfortunately, a large number of followers still squabble on whether he was a Muslim or a Hindu, when Sai’s life and teachings practically made that a non-issue, not worthy of even a discussion, leave alone a debate – forget an argument!


Culled from the Sai Sat Charita (considered the most important account of his life, teachings and miracles), are some of the most lucid statements on Advaita made by a saint whose motto was “Sabka Malik Ek”, that literally translates as “Everyone’s God/Master is One”. Sai clearly did not mean to emphasize that there is only one God (as in an embodied form) for everyone, but rather that ‘Everyone’s God/Master is One’. One – not two, non-dual – One, the One Unicity, One Source, One Consciousness. This makes it hardly surprising that he was considered an incarnation of Shiva – who is Pure Consciousness.


Here are some examples of Baba’s Advaitic sayings:


“Who is this Me? You need not go far in search of Me. Barring your name and form, there exists in you as well as in all beings, a sense of Being or Consciousness of Existence. That is Myself. Knowing this, you see Me inside yourself, as well as in all beings. If you practise this, you will realize all-pervasiveness, and thus attain oneness with Me.”


Sai clearly points out that you are not the ego – identification with name and form. You are that Consciousness that enables you to Be – “I Am,” not “I Am this or that.” You are that same Consciousness that functions through everyone and brings about life as we know it, just as it is the same electricity that functions through different electronic gadgets. This understanding annihilates any notion of separation that exists between ‘me’ and the ‘other’. All there is, is only Consciousness. And it is not something to go in search of, as it is already there within us – only the veil of ignorance needs to be removed. Sabka Malik Ek.


“Why should you take the responsibility of the actions on you? Do not entertain the sense of doership in doing good, as well as for bad deeds; be entirely prideless and egoless in all things and thus your spiritual progress will be rapid.”


Here, Sai clearly states that God is the only doer of all actions that we supposedly think are done by us. All actions are Divine happenings and not deeds done by anyone. No pride or arrogance for our successes, no guilt or shame for our so-called ‘bad deeds’. God is the only doer.


Sai goes on to say: “You see, mysterious is the path of action. Though I do nothing, they hold Me responsible for the actions which take place on account of Prarabdh (Destiny). I am only their witness. The Lord is the Sole doer and Inspirer. He is most merciful. Neither I am God, nor Master. I am his obedient servant and remember Him constantly. He who casts aside his egoism and thanks Him, and he who trusts Him entirely, will have his shackles removed and will obtain liberation.”


From the above statements, we can see that Sai is constantly giving us pointers to liberation, enlightenment or Self-realization. In the following paragraph from the Sai Sat Charita, Sai Baba has covered some major milestones on the Advaita road – including being the Witness, the illusion of separation, the will of God, and enlightenment. “Let the world go topsy-turvy, you remain where you are. Standing in your own place, look on calmly at the show of all things passing before you. Demolish the wall of difference that separates you from Me, and then the road for our meeting will be clear and open. The sense of differentiation as I and thou, is the barrier that keeps the disciple away from his Master and unless that is destroyed the state of union or atonement is not possible, “Allah Malik”, i.e. God is the sole Proprietor, nobody else is our Protector. His method of work is extraordinary, invaluable and inscrutable. His Will be done and He will show us the way, and satisfy our heart’s desires. It is on account of Runanubandh (former relationship) that we have come together, let us love and serve each other and be happy. He who attains the supreme goal of life is immortal and happy, all others merely exist, i.e. live so long as they breathe.”


Clearly, the supreme goal of life that Sai Baba refers to is enlightenment or Self- realization. By ‘immortal’ he does not mean that we (the body) will live forever, but that we will realize our true nature is immortal, eternal Presence, beyond the pleasures and pains of life and, hence, the shackles of time; ever-shining; always there, never having been born and hence could never die.


Since his passing, Sai Baba has been worshipped by millions of devotees in the hope that miracles will occur in their lives. Few worship him for the miracle that is his teaching – itself a direct path to Self-realization and enlightenment; a path which takes us beyond the pains and pleasures of daily living, and anchors us in peace of mind. There is no greater miracle this Diamond of Advaita could bestow upon us. Although there are thousands of temples dedicated to Sai Baba today, it’s time to worship his timeless teachings as well, for in his own words, “Meditate always on My Formless nature, which is knowledge incarnate, consciousness and bliss.”

It is this statement we should remember the next time we bow down in front of the stone slab at Dwarkamai upon which Baba used to sit. Let it be a reminder of His formless form. Sai had also said, “My bones will speak from my tomb.” They certainly are speaking but the point is, are we willing to listen? Or are we going with our heads and hearts stuffed with our hopes and wishes for miracles in our lives, assuming that what we want is going to be good for us in the first place?


The Dhuni at Dwarkamai has been burning ever since Baba’s passing over. May it consume our ignorance and burn brighter as Baba’s teachings blaze forth across the world in time to come, lighting up the road for all of humanity. For, truly, Sabka Malik Ek.